A disparaging word

Recently we discussed, in two separate posts, the use of euphemisms, or words used to make something sound better than it is.

Did you know that the euphemism has an opposite? It’s the dysphemism. A dysphemism is a word that is used to make something sound worse—or harsher or more crude—than it is.

I can’t confirm this anywhere, but I wonder if that is where the modern slang “dis” comes from, as in to insult someone. Does anyone know?

The examples I’ve come across in my research aren’t very polite; I suppose that’s why they are what they are. There are countless dysphemisms for using the restroom. My son used an ugly one recently, so ugly I must have put it out of my mind. I remember only that he used it in front of his grandfather.

About.com’s Grammar & Composition site has an interesting take. Here English professor Richard Nordquist points out that dysphemisms, also called cacophemisms, are used to refer to people often take from animal images. Someone is a pig or an old bat or a chicken. Most of their other examples have to do with death, dying and burial.

Do you have any interesting dysphemisms that can be shared in polite company?


Filed under All Things Wordish, Family and Friends

2 responses to “A disparaging word

  1. Sharon

    “Dis” is short for “disrespect.” Of course, the prefixes dis/dys are both negative in meaning (I believe “dis” to be Latin and “dys” to be Greek.)

  2. “Diss” (two s’s) is from Jamaican English for “to disparage” or “to disrespect.” I can’t confirm or deny the origins, although I personally have started hearing “diss” as long ago as the mid-1980s in London. Mind you, I didn’t hear it from Caribbean folks – heard it from English-borns of Caribbean parents, although I’ve never heard “diss” from the parents themselves.

    Dysphemism – e.g. “Yeah, right” for opposite of the literal meanings of the words. Maybe?

    “Weasel” and “weaselly” to diss a person’s alleged cunningness or sneakiness. And “walleyes” or “eyewalls” as anagrams for weaselly, perhaps?

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